Matt Shearer, CPO, Data Language
Good information management is one of the key areas that start-ups should be focusing on from the get-go, rather than waiting until later, when baked-in legacy information management issues can cause massive challenges to scaling up. Believe me – these issues become expensive, time-consuming, and cause a competitive disadvantage.
To illustrate this factor – look at some successful digital products: Google, Amazon, Spotify, and Netflix – all of these businesses have invested hugely in their information management systems, creating knowledge graphs that provide context and meaning to all of their data, wherever it is being used. This enables them to mobilise their core business data towards new features and products rapidly.
Conversely, many other well-established businesses are struggling to get what they need from their information management systems. Typically this manifests in the inability to launch new products or features rapidly, the need for manual processes to generate insights, the lack of business intelligence, and the inability to train Artificial Intelligence or automation systems.
All of these symptoms are directly caused by the lack of a consistent and structured information backbone.
Dysfunctional information management, under the surface, is the key driver for “Digital Transformation” projects – i.e. the increasing demand for business intelligence, mobilising AI services, and shipping new digital products rapidly are all impossible without good information management. Companies often realise too late that they have neglected their information management to great detriment, and their data, which is their core asset, does not have the required structure and qualities.
Turning back to the Start-up sector: Founders can avoid these data issues later in their growth by thinking carefully about information management as part of their MVP. There are SaaS products now that are truly “A stitch in time” for cash-strapped start ups. What used to cost $millions, and require a team of experienced developers for months, is now available off-the-shelf and can save a startup time and money in their crucial MVP. What’s more, it means you are ready with a strong information management foundation for your later scale-up phases, disruptions, and pivots.
This is a simple “Buy vs Build” decision, but information management concerns are not always front of mind for startups. This capability can easily be overlooked in favour of a product’s USP, and information becomes locked in silos; e.g. people’s heads, spreadsheets, stand-alone config files, or even baked into code (god forbid). Not only that – once a startup grows past the “50 employees” mark, the tacit knowledge that is passed around a smaller team is no longer a feasible information management strategy; hidden scaling issues, data silos, and workarounds can not only cause a scale-up ultimately to fail but generally make life harder as the startup grows.
For early-stage startups, building a data-driven system that conforms to a well-structured and easily-managed information backbone is crucial for a number of factors: creating effective user experiences, providing the same information structure to humans and machines at all interfaces, and informing smart decisions that will propel your business to the next level. When you have the right strategy for your information, it’s easier for people on all levels to make better business choices.
Effective information management means having a clear model for your domain and organising data in a consistent and detailed way – data that is well structured enables teams to use their time, resources and expertise effectively to make decisions and fulfil their roles.
If you want to ship, ship, ship, and be able to pivot on a dime, get your information management right before your MVP.
This is particularly true for startups as competition is fierce. If you don’t set yourself apart in the marketplace, you risk being lost in the crowd. Assuming that businesses set up good information practices from the beginning, there are huge rewards to be reaped. For me, the true reward lies in what data enables.